MONEY TALK Let’s talk about money. That perks up everyone’s ears. If there is one thing that gets people focused, it’s the mention of money. Page through a copy of USA Today, and you will find all manner of advertisements offering ways to substantially increase your income, grow your investments. Money can easily become our obsession. In the book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, Alec Trocme tells of spending a season as a student in America, serving as French tutor to the family of the founder of Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller. Trocme was struck by Rockefeller’s view toward money. He once gave Trocme a thin dime and told him to go home to France and invest it. This, he said, is the beginning of your fortune. At the time, Trocme wasn’t really concerned about making his fortune. But while Rockefeller learned to practice great generosity, he also had a chapter of his life where he was preoccupied with wealth. Asked how much money is enough, he once responded, ‘Just a little more than I have right now.” OUR CRAVING FOR “ONE MORE THING” How much do you need? “Just a little more than I have right now.” Don’t most of us think that way? We are embarrassed to admit it, but this is the secret struggle to be satisfied, to have enough, is a never ending battle for most of us. I say we’re embarrassed to admit it, because we know that most of us already have it good. If you were to shrink the world’s population to a hundred people, you would find that there are 33 living a fairly well—to—do lifestyle, while 67 would be living in poverty. Of each available dollar, those affluent 33 get to spend 87 cents. The other 67 divide the remaining 13 pennies. Many of us listening to this message are among the third of the world’s population that divides up 87% of the world’s goods. We feel awkward about that—even guilty. Yet frankly, down deep, that 87% still isn’t enough. We want more. Our car is a few years old, our clothes not quite the latest style, our vacations could use an upgrade. And if we could only have those things, then we would be content? Right? Or don’t we believe that anymore? Why can’t we get enough? If you can relate to this struggle, then here’s what I want you to do…I want you to come to see that contentment based on what you have is a fool’s game. Studies demonstrate that our happiness has very little to do with the amount of material goods that sit around our homes. Once we’ve got a roof over our head, clothes to wear and food to eat, it really doesn’t matter if you live in a bungalow or a mansion, it doesn’t matter if you eat hot dogs or filet mignon—studies show that happiness—your sense of well being—does not increase when you move up the economic later. But you know that, right? Because you’ve found that when you’ve had opportunity to crank your lifestyle up a notch, in the long run, your satisfaction—or dissatisfaction—with life remains about the same. The years you reported more income on your tax forms, they weren’t any happier than when your income level was flat. Having more money doesn’t’ make you more happy. It looks as though money isn’t a very easy thing to understand and that’s why we need some help. We need the help of the Apostle Paul, to help sort things out. He wrote about money to his friend Timothy. You see, there are two misconceptions —two mistakes that we need to guard against when it comes to the money in our pocket. MONEY AS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL? The first mistake is to treat money as though it doesn’t matter. Or, to put it Pauls’ way, to consider money the root of all evil, something wicked in itself. People who think this way argue that wealth itself is evil and should be renounced. “If you want to be spiritual,” the argument goes, “you’ve really got to be poor. You can find this conviction not just among Christians, but also among some New Agers who draw heavily on the idea of eastern spirituality. New Age sometimes argues that extinction of all desire is the real goal of the spiritual life. Salvation comes when we blow out the flickering flame of desire and pursue nirvana. So we read in the papers of executives in the fast lane who have decided to quit the rat race. They have decided to drop out and leave the material world behind. No more house payments or second mortgages. No more tracking the Dow Jones average. We read of such spiritual adventurers, and we may get a bit envious. In fact, we may feel a bit guilty about the financial goals we’ve set for ourselves. Perhaps, we think, a vow of poverty is the way to go. Perhaps turning your back on material things is the answer. But does that really work? Is it sensible to live as though money were evil, as though the material world were in some way evil? Such thinking is a long way from Paul’s statement in I Timothy 4:4. There he says, “everything that God created is good and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving.” God created all things. And you and I are never asked by God to deny the goodness of his creation. That’s why the Bible never condemns people for HAVING money. No, it condemns people for LOVING money. The Bible never condemns people for HAVING POSSESSIONS. The Bible condemns people for having possessions and not being willing to share with the poor. That’s why the danger of materialism isn’t overcome by selling our homes and moving into a commune, because the issue is a heart issue. Who knows, perhaps God has entrusted you with a great deal so that you may exercise a special stewardship on his behalf! MONEY AS THE SOURCE OF ALL GOOD? But you know, the problem for most people in our society today isn’t so much the rejection of the material world—but it’s wild embrace of material things. I don’t hear too many voices vilifying wealth. Instead, I hear more voices suggesting that wealth is the sure sign that God is blessing you. A few years ago, Rev. Terry Cole had a best selling book on the market. Rev. Cole was at the time an up—and—coming evangelist in California. Her message was simple: Be sure to get yours! She willingly admitted living an opulent lifestyle. And why not? Because according to Terry Cole, the Bible is a book about making money. Money is the name of the game. The Bible is a book which tells people how to get rich. Now, there are two problems with Cole’s approach to wealth: one Biblical and the other practical. First the Biblical problem. Her approach to wealth doesn’t square with God’s approach to money. But more on that later. The other problem with Cole’s teachings is that Cole offers a gospel that ultimately does not satisfy. For Cole’s prosperity gospel doesn’t birth contentment. You see, contentment isn’t measured by what you have, but by who you are. Satisfying your soul on money is like drinking salt water to quench your thirst. Paul says to Timothy that through the love of money, many have wandered away from the faith. The word ‘wander’ is the same root word in the Greek from which we get the word ‘planet.’ The planets, you may know, were once called ‘wandering stars,’ because unlike true stars which maintain a fixed position over against other stars, the planets are lights that seem to wander all over the heavens. That is what happens when we love money, says Paul. We wander in this world with no fixed course. With no real direction. We are like little children who dash along the beach, first spying this shell and now that piece of driftwood—looking for the next enticing treasure. But as we run along, we lose track of where we are. THE TWIN DANGERS OF MONEY When we do that, says Paul, we pierce ourselves with many griefs. In fact, Paul says if we love money we pierce ourselves with two griefs that will cut deep into our souls. First, we stab ourselves with the dagger of pride. Later in this chapter from I Timothy, Paul writes “Command those who are rich not to be arrogant.” Now, why would he say that? Why would rich people tend to be arrogant people? Because we tend to peg people according to the amount of MONEY they make. In fact, we equate money with success. How successful you are —translates into how much money you earn. Success is equated with how much money your estate is worth. “He who dies with the most toys wins.” In the end, we even equate money with power. But Paul says—God doesn’t tolerate this kind of smugness. God will not put up with this spiritual snobbery. “I command you,” says Paul, “not to be arrogant.” That’s the first danger of money, simple pride. And there is a second danger—False confidence—“Command those who are rich,” says Paul, “not to put their hope in wealth.” Money brings with it the tantalizing lure of security. Indeed, don’t we even call one form of financial investments, ‘securities?” Many of us right now are worried whether we’ll have enough money in the bank to retire. We’re saving like we’ve never saved before, and that’s good. It has biblical warrant. But the driving question that follows is always—how much IS enough? How much do I need to have true security? Maybe those of us who have a fair amount of money have learned the answer. I like watching old British sitcoms on television, and in the old PBS series “Bless Me Father” the parish priest remarks that there is something rich people know from experience that poor people do not know. Poor people, he said, can still live with the illusion that if they only had more money, all their problems would be solved. Rich people, said the parish priest, know that isn’t true. Yes, rich people, if they have truly acquired real wisdom, have learned that money does not save. How about you? Have you discovered that if you put your faith in your finances, well, then you’ll never have enough? Have you discovered that putting your ultimate confidence in the size of your investment portfolio is a fool’s game? MONEY IN ITS PLACE: GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT So how should we think about money? If it doesn’t make sense to worship wealth and it doesn’t make sense to trash wealth—what other way is there for us to go? The answer is to keep money in its proper place. Paul describes it very simply: “There is great gain in godliness with contentment.” The issue, says Paul, isn’t money at all. It’s godliness. What Paul is suggesting is really revolutionary. Paul is saying that before we assess our financial condition we need to look at our spiritual condition. We need to take a hard look at our spiritual attitude toward life. At the end of the day, what’s our true love? Our Ferrari, our blue chip stocks, our lake home? Or do we love, with our whole being, the God who made and redeemed us? You know, you can be as poor as a pauper, and still be a materialist. You can be as rich as a king—and still be a lover of God. The issue is not the number of dollars in your pocket—but the object of your true love. People who are REALLY RICH are people who are rich in godliness. Who are rich in contentment. Who are rich toward God. The word contentment that Paul uses here in the Greek literally means ‘soul—sufficiency.’ Now, by that word, Paul is not saying that we are SELF—sufficient. No. But he is saying though, that our sense of well—being doesn’t so much relate to the outer world of possessions—as the inner world of the heart. When it comes to this inner world, when it comes to my inner self, money will not provide what I need. After all, says Paul, we brought nothing into the world, and we will bring nothing out. No, my ‘soul—sufficiency’ cannot depend on things that I cannot take from this world. So what does it depend upon? It depends on Godliness. We are restless until we rest in God. We are created with an inner need to enter a living relationship with the Most High God through his Son, Jesus Christ. Only when we are attune to godliness will we find a way through the morass of materialism. For the love of things is replaced by greater loves. A love for God and a love for neighbor. The Bible never commands us to love things. It never commands us to love bank accounts, or new recreation equipment, or our latest electronic gadgetry. When our identity is caught up in those things, we are in mortal danger. Rather the Bible calls us to love God above all, and love our neighbor as ourselves. GODLINESS THAT TRANSFORMS And when we know that kind of love, then our attitude toward wealth is transformed. No longer is money an end in itself. Instead, it is only means to an end. Using our money wisely is a way we serve others in the name of Jesus. How do you keep money from becoming your god? Well, Paul points the way: “Command them to do good, to be generous and willing to share. . .” The way you demonstrate that money doesn’t have you but the throat is by giving it away. The way you demonstrate that money is your servant, not your lord, is by sharing what you have with those who have less. Never think that is an easy thing to do. Dr Karl Menninger, the founder of the Menninger Clinic, once asked a wealthy patient “What on earth are you going to do with all that money? ” The patient replied, ““Just worry about it, I suppose!” Dr. Menninger went on to say, “Well, do you get that much pleasure out of worrying about it?” No, responded the patient, “But I get such terror when I think of giving some of it [away].” (Foster, Challenge, page 43) Now that’s honesty! Why this great fear? Why was it so scary to give some of it away? Because for that man his money was his security. Do you have that problem? One way to find out is to determine whether you can actually part with your money for the sake of unleashing its power to bless others. For you to do that, you’re going to have to trust your future, not to your money, but to your God! If I do not trust my heavenly Father to supply my need, then I cannot live a generous life. For I will say, “Who knows? Maybe the money I give today, I’ll need tomorrow for a car repair? Or to pay for nursing home care. I can’t give this money away. I may need it.” But how much will you need? Always a little more than you have right now. Such is the talk of unbelief. Such is talk of someone who puts faith in finances. But a disciple of Jesus does something amazing. His bank account is a bit deflated, his wallet somewhat flatter because he does what the world thinks is incomprehensible. He gives to Christ’s church and kingdom. GOD’S INVESTMENT GUIDELINES If you practice this kind of incomprehensible behavior, you will have riches indeed—you will have riches that neither moth nor rust consume. Awhile back, I heard a story about an elderly gentleman who insisted that his sons honor his memory by each putting a thousand dollars in his coffin when he died. The first son came to the coffin and slipped in an envelope. The second son came and dropped in an envelope. The third son came and dropped in a slip of paper. After the casket was closed, the first two sons asked the third —what was that you put in the casket? The third son said—“I wrote a check.” There are no check—cashing privileges in heaven. No U—hauls follow the hearse to the cemetery. Indeed, I am always struck by the fact that what we treasure in this life often becomes someone else’s trash. As they say, you can’t take it with you. No, you can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead. Paul says so; he tells us that those who practice generosity will “lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age.” Gifts are investments. Not in the sense that we automatically reap in this life ala the prosperity gospel. Not in the sense that there is some divine bank account which we tap when we walk through heaven’s gates. Nevertheless our gifts are investments. Because by giving materially we are enriched spiritually. SO here is God’s investment guide. Give to the work of God’s kingdom the time and money you want to impact for eternity. What’s the shape of your heavenly portfolio?